Research: Doing the Right Thing: Intentional Self Regulation and the Promotion of Character Development

The "Doing the Right Thing" project is designed to answer the question: "Why do adolescents who believe themselves to be of high character, virtue, or morality, behave in ways that fall short of their standards?" The purpose of the project is to examine the role that intentional self regulation skills and character exemplars play in the virtuous behaviors of adolescents. Exemplars may demonstrate to others, and particularly to youth in the process of developing their moral identities, how one can regulate or control one’s behaviors in manners reflecting character virtues.

This project is a four-wave, cohort-sequential, mixed methods study. In Spring 2015, we collected pilot survey data from about 200 young people in the Boston area, and we also collected data from one of their parents or guardians. We also asked the youth to nominate a staff member at their school who knows them well, and we asked those individuals to complete surveys with questions about the young person. These pilot participants will be contacted three more times over the next two years. In Fall 2015, we will recruit a larger sample (about 600 more young people) and survey them twice more over the two year period. Finally, we will also interview a subsample of young people to learn about their perspectives regarding the roles of self regulation skills and character exemplars in their lives. The key goal of the study is to provide new research findings about the development of virtues and moral behavior in adolescence. As such, this project will provide the evidence base for interventions that may substantially narrow the gap between espoused positive character and enacted virtuous behavior.